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Halt of DVD Showing McCain Interview Is Ridiculous

Warner Bros. is halting any promotional viewings of the new DVD “The Hanoi Hilton” because the DVD includes a bonus feature of Sen. John McCain talking about his POW experience.

This action is laughable.

In 1987, Lionel Chetwynd wrote and directed the feature film “The Hanoi Hilton,” about American prisoners of war in North Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison, popularly referred to as the Hanoi Hilton. The film has been unavailable on DVD until now. As part of its DVD release, Chetwynd put together some extra features ”an interview with McCain, who spent time in the prison, among them.

Chetwynd interviewed the Arizona senator and Republican presidential candidate in May of this year. Michael Cieply, writing for The New York Times Politics Blog, said at the time:

“During a fund-raising stop here on Wednesday, Mr. McCain quietly slipped into a suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where he recorded an interview to be included with the first DVD edition of the 1987 film ‘The Hanoi Hilton.'”

Chetwynd told Cieply in May that he hoped the DVD would be released before the election. At the time, Warner Bros. only said it was “aiming for a fall release.”

Variety managing editor Ted Johnson then wrote in his blog Wilshire & Washington, “The movie could undoubtedly help McCain’s campaign remind voters of his Vietnam experience, but it is still uncertain whether it will be released before the election.”

The story was dormant for months. No dust was even kicked up when Warner Bros. announced, in an Aug. 21 press release, that the DVD would hit shelves Nov. 11 ”Veterans Day. The release made no mention of the special feature about McCain, who spent part of his five-plus years as a POW at the infamous prison.

Barack Obama and John McCain won their parties’ nominations. Campaigns continued. Lions Gate got ready to release Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic “W” in mid-October.

Word of “The Hanoi Hilton” DVD release did spread in certain circles, like veterans groups that made the film a sought-after VHS item despite its poor theatrical showing.

An action alert at The Conservative Voice began talking up the DVD release back in September. The release made special mention of the bonus feature “Perseverance of Strength: A Conversation with John McCain.” Indeed, the DVD covers now shows this above the film’s title: “Includes an interview with Senator John McCain.” (The pre-order page at Warner Home Video refers to the special feature as: “Perseverance of Strength: A Conversation with John McCain ”The Arizona Senator Talks with Writer/Director Lionel Cheywynd About His POW Experiences at the Real-Life Hanoi Hilton.”)

And then a few days ago, Chetwynd, wanting to do some pre-release publicity for the DVD, was told by Warner Home Video not to screen the film or show the McCain footage, according to Jeffrey Ressner at Politico.com.

Now the story has traction again, getting picked up by the New York Times and conservative bloggers.

“It’s just us trying to be cautious and not affect the election one way or the other,” Ronnee Sass, Warner Bros. spokeswoman, told the New York Times.

That rhetoric didn’t fly with Chetwynd.

“Finding someone in Hollywood who says they don’t want to affect the election is like finding a virgin in a brothel,” he told the Times on Monday.

Chetwynd is no doubt referring to other films whose releases are or have been tied to election-year politics, like “Fahrenheit 9/11” or “W,” both from Lions Gate.

The point is not that this part of McCain’s story hasn’t and won’t be told. His book, Faith of My Fathers, discusses his time as a POW, and it was adapted in 2005 into an A&E TV movie. A&E also produced a “Biography” episode on McCain in 1999. His story has been recounted many times through the years, and now numerous clips about McCain’s service and imprisonment are available all over the Web.

That’s why, in part, it’s laughable that Warner Bros. thinks it owes anybody anything by trying to keep a lid on a bonus feature on a DVD.

As Jeffrey Ressner said at Politico.com, “Chetwynd was reportedly told that the studio didn’t want to affect the election in any way, which seems a bit far-fetched considering the impact a bonus feature might have on a national presidential election.”

“According to one person who has seen the edited bonus footage,” Ressner said, “McCain doesn’t say anything that could be considered ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘controversial.'”

There’s simply no reason for Warner Bros.’ apparent cloak-and-dagger handling of this DVD and its extras.

The Times reported that the Warner Bros. spokeswoman originally said they were keeping lights off on showings over concerns about campaign finance law. Warner then said it wasn’t campaign finance law that had them tripping, but electioneering.

“It could have gotten some objections,” the WB representative told the Times.

Yes, it could have and would have. That certainly never stopped Lions Gate.

Cliff Vaughn is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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